Music is a type of language that transmits ideas through sound patterns. There are many similarities with our spoken languages. For example, we use a 26 letter alphabet to construct sentences just as we use a 12 note scale to create a melody.
Like a sentence, a melody has a beginning, middle, and end. Just as we use punctuation marks (like a period) to end a sentence, we use often the first note of a musical scale to end a melody.
One other connection here is that we process all sounds in an area of our brains called the temporal lobe, right above each ear. So our perception of language and musical sound is closely related.
Write That Tune!
What do you think are some of the main aspects of melody? Listen to the following examples:
What is your definition of melody? Write it down in your journal.
Listen again to the examples above and imagine that they are being spoken as a language.
Hands-On Activity – Draw That Tune!
What's the Point?
Just as there can be many types of sentences in many different spoken languages, there can be different melodies. Typically we think about melody as a sucession of single pitches. If there are two or more pitches happening at the same time, we use other terms like intervals and harmony to describe them.
There are many terms associated with melody in Western music such as:
A melodic contour
There are also other qualtites to any melody. A melody usually follows a contour or shape that rises or falls in many ways. There is also an emphasis given to certain notes, either through loudness (volume change) or duration (for example a long high note).
Just for Fun!
Below are three melodies from around the world.
Listen to each one. How are they similar and different to the first three that we studied? Write a sentence that describes each melody showing its contour places of emphasis. Indicate the places where you have a pause with a comma and the ending with a period.
"Joy is the sweet voice, joy the luminous cloud --
– Samuel Taylor Coleridge
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